Liverpool peer’s long campaign to overturn 1882 miscarriage of justice in west of Ireland nears success as Irish government acts
The Irish government said this week it wants to overturn a notorious miscarriage of justice – 135 years after the event.
It confirmed it has appointed an expert on posthumous pardons to re-examine the case of the Mám Trasna murders of 1882, which led to the hangings of three men and life sentences for five others.
On 17 August 1882 five members of the Joyce family were murdered in their home in Mám Trasna, a remote area on the Galway-Mayo border.
Eight local men were convicted of the crime and sentenced to hang, based on what later emerged to be perjured evidence given by informers and alleged eyewitnesses, who received £1,250 — equivalent to about €160,000 today.
It follows a lengthy campaign by Lord Alton of Liverpool, former MP David Alton, whose mother was a native Irish speaker from the Mám Trasna area.
He campaigned for many years with fellow Liverpool peer, the late Eric Lubbock or Baron Avebury who died last year. Lord Alton said those charged with the murders had no understanding of the court proceeding in English.
“To have a fair trial, you need to be able to understand the accusations that are being made against you.
“You need to be able to understand the evidence being given by your accusers, and you need to be able to understand the directions of the judge. “If you can’t understand any of these it makes it impossible to have a fair trial,” he said.
The announcement also followed a call by President Michael D Higgins, in a drama documentary, Murdair Mhám Trasna, for the Irish language channel TG4, to pardon the men.
The president said the eight accused were denied a fair trial, witnesses were bribed and the men, native Irish speakers, were viewed “as a race apart” by the British legal officials.
“The government has appointed an expert to examine the case. I look forward to receiving the expert’s opinion and the government’s advice on the matter,” Mr Higgins said. “If it were up to me, the formalities aside, I would be happy to accept that the injustice which occurred should be recognised.”
Those convicted were tried in English although, being native Irish speakers, most of those charged had little or no knowledge of the language.
In an interview featured in Murdair Mhám Trasna, a new drama-documentary on TG4, President Michael D Higgins announced the government’s appointment and said: “Everything that happened at that level of the State was horrendous. There was bribery involved. The accused didn’t get a chance to defend themselves. There wasn’t an atmosphere of equality and there was no equality as regards legal processes at that time.
“Speaking of the British authorities at the time, Higgins said that they viewed the men “as a race apart who were not on equal footing with ordinary civilised people”.
Pádraig Ó hÉanacháin, whose relative was one of the convicted men, welcomed the appointment of an expert to examine the case.
He told RTE News: “It is a pity that it has taken so long to get this investigation started, but at least it might bring the result that we’re all hoping for.
“The government and all the agencies should bring all the pressure that’s possible to bear so that we can achieve that result.”